26 December 2011

The Nativity

"...if we want to find the God who appeared as a child, then we must dismount from the high horse of our 'enlightened' reason. We must set aside our false certainties, our intellectual pride, which prevents us from recognizing God’s closeness."

Pope Benedict uttered these words at a late-night mass in Rome to people who were, more or less, agreeable to his message. There are of course, so many who have fallen so far away that to hear these words they consider them nothing more than the tinny shrill of a Christmas environment constructed by every possible avoidance. The dagger the pope carries in his words fails to penetrate the very one it seeks. 

That bright lights and recorded songs of the season permeate even the most devout is nothing new. It might be said, in fact, there is nothing new in this at all. People for two millenia have escaped to the superficial, the gift-wrap of a truth that is too impossible and too painful to bear. Instead, we resort to the charade of manic unwrapping this time has become: frenzied children and hurried adults scrambling to make some point about this feast, ribboning every unsaid truth away in some package.

An atheist - a student I once taught - gathered gifts around himself as a gambler might collect chips, without the slightest recognition of the irony that was present. There was, to him, no disconnect between his strident claims of God's nonexistence and the beautiful boxes he received as the result of the star-struck Magi at the feet of God-made-man. Such is the state of this holiday - this holy day - like so many others to lesser degrees. The scandal is not in that the atheist receives fancy things because of the Christ child, but that the truth of the Christ child is neglected altogether.

The pope was right in calling out our arrogance. A world in which scientific and logical argumentation make the news, an ancient religion can seem at the least outdated and at the most absurd. We pat ourselves on the backs for our accomplishments as a civilized people, and though it does not require me stating, such civilized people have laid hopeless and tortured and slaughtered more human life than in any uncivilized generation before, we laud ourselves into the lullaby of our own success and goodness nonetheless.

The hymns fade away and the stores change their fronts in the timeless tradition of avoiding what squirms before us: a helpless infant in a ridiculous surrounding, It is this surrounding, the pope went on to say, that requires the pilgrim to bend low, to be humble. Bend low, crouch down, put away your fancy arguments and forgettable gifts and delusions and enter the tired stable that bore so great a Savior.

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